I’m going to preface this by saying I am in no way an expert. I just have been in enough relationships, both friendly and romantic, to see trends & decided to dig deeper. I will however quote experts or professional sources…
I’ve heard of co-dependency growing up, but it was mainly in the context of giving a homeless person money who was clearly on drugs. There were many people who were considered co-dependent because they made sure an individual addicted to a chemical substance always had that substance available. What’s worse is that sometimes that addict never even had to ask for the substance. The co-dependent individual just made it available. Over the years researchers have realized that we don’t just become co-dependent because of addiction to a substance, but we become co-dependent due to mental illness, chronic illness, or even just any type of dysfunctional family member or friendship.
Who still calls their mother or father even though they KNOW they’re going to be ridiculed? That’s co-dependency.
Who still stalks their ex on social media even though they were horrible to you? That’s co-dependency.
Who gets all excited to see an absent parent even though that absent parent has been MIA since 2010? That’s co-dependency.
Many families don’t even realize they have a co-dependency issue. I’ve seen this mainly with parents who have adult children and grandchildren. They will give up their own happiness for others. They’ll repress how they truly feel about things until it all comes to a boiling point. Does your family really only get together in times of crisis or does your family keep in touch just because?
Some families end up in survival mode. Mental Health America hit the nail on the head about dysfunctional families:
“They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited.”
The family FOCUSES on the ill individual or the addict. The family will push aside their own happiness to try and solve that individual’s problems. They end up losing who they truly are just trying to keep this individual happy. Many parents do this (hello Macy & Ryan from Teen Mom!) and they will enable their child to keep up the destructive activities until the child either dies or finally fixes themselves. Do you wait until they’re 45? 75? Or do you save yourself & cut the person off as soon as physically possible?
Do you know a workaholic in your life? I remember having quite a few in my life. It was always hard hearing that they “had” to go to work, even if it was a time I NEEDED them to just hold my hand. It’s sad to say but I feel for the COVID pregnant women right now. I went to so many of my appointments alone, the only difference is that individual could never get off from work or had a meeting. I don’t know about you, but I know how schedules work & how easy it is to work around various things. I learned to take that time by myself to breathe & work on me. I have actually become quite comfortable taking all of my kids places or just going anywhere by myself. Gym? Restaurant? Move? Sure! I was forced to become more comfortable in my own skin. I saw a therapist who actually worked on whatever co-dependency I had left. We discussed different issues, all the way from childhood, to deployments, and up until the present. Sure, there have been hiccups along the way, but life is a journey.
I’ve found numerous lists online focusing on the characteristics of co-dependent people. Here are the top 16 reasons that are most prevalent (from MHA):
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
- A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
- A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
- An extreme need for approval and recognition
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- Lack of trust in self and/or others
- Fear of being abandoned or alone
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
- Problems with intimacy/boundaries
- Chronic anger
- Poor communications
- Difficulty making decisions
Sharon Martin is a wonderful Mental Health professional. Her blog has so many resources (both free and for purchase) and I strongly recommend researching. This goes for those of us currently IN a relationship that doesn’t feel healthy or those of us who are single & trying to find love. Co-dependency can be changed. You are worth it. We all are. Once you love who YOU are you’ll love who others are by default. There are many individuals who confuse inter-dependency & co-dependency. I’ve attached this wonderful chart by Sharon Martin to help you define the differences. So, if you’re dependent on others to feel your worth (checking on your LIKE count on Facebook?), or obsessed with your partner (you HAVE to be together 24/7), or shame for the truth to be known so you hide then you need to re-evaluate yourself for YOU. Love yourself. Love others.
You’re worth it!